Ditch the word “dude” and buck up. It’s time for wranglers to get back to their roots.
I’ve been a “dude” wrangler for 10 years. In Western circles, that’s not something you’re supposed to admit. It’s like confessing that you enjoy working with mules – or worse, that you liked the movie All the Pretty Horses (which I’ll also admit to).
Perhaps this perception is because wranglers are viewed as a joke, a shadow of a once-glorious past. But it’s time to set that misconception straight. Wranglers need a manifesto, a mission statement to get our profession back on track. Get ready to take some notes.
- Wrangling is a profession, not a summer job. The learning curve is so steep that it isn’t worth the effort of a one-year commitment. Considering all you need to know – your string of horses, people skills, the country you guide and the judgement to handle tough situations – two- and three-year contracts should be the norm. Sure, a crew can have a first-year wrangler; that’s evidence of a vibrant and growing business. But the heart and foundation of a team should be veterans and mentors.
- Let California surfers have the word “dude”. It implies only disdain for customers, who are the reason we’re here. Objectifying guests as dudes is a sign of someone who is insecure about his or her job.
- In a way, wranglers are saddle-bound psychologists. Some say the universal reason for travel is to gain insight into your experience at home. Guests love to tell their stories and ask questions, but many wranglers are too busy talking about the time they got bucked off, encountered a bear or had an altercation involving a firearm that they don’t listen.
- Get smart. If a guest can afford an expensive vacation Out West, they’re probably well-educated, business folks. Be prepared for ‘ology questions, such as about geology, ecology and anthropology. A good wrangler knows the trail he’s on passes through a subalpine forest of Douglas fir and whitebark pine, in a glacially carved mountain canyon, next to a stream named Moose Creek because an 1880s homesteader once shot a moose there, and – oh look – there’s a track from a snowshoe hare.
- Buck up: It’s exhausting work. In the heat of a hard day, when you have a long list of places you’d rather be, remember that your horse is working harder than you. In a couple of hours, you’ll both be back at the barn. You’ll pull the saddle, brush down his sweaty back and turn him out. And witnessing his exuberant return to the herd, with a soundtrack of rumbling hooves, is an experience reseved for those of the wrangling profession.
The story appears on p. 34 of the August 2009 Western Horseman.